Gun Violence Not Predictable by Personality, Study Finds

Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Existing evidence suggests that licensing handgun purchases, requiring background checks for all gun sales, and oversight of gun dealers may lower risks that criminals will own them. Close

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Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Existing evidence suggests that licensing handgun purchases, requiring background checks for all gun sales, and oversight of gun dealers may lower risks that criminals will own them.

Mass shootings can’t be reliably predicted by any single personality profile, according to the largest group of U.S. psychologists.

There are no consistent warning signs that can identify a person who may go on to gun-related crimes, according to a report from the American Psychological Association, based in Washington. A more-promising way to prevent gun violence may be to focus on the problems that underlie threatening behavior.

Though individual prediction is difficult, there are ways to lower gun violence in the population, including making sure that people who are at risk of committing assaults get mental health care, the group said. Exclusive focus on mental health, however, won’t solve the problem, the report’s authors said. Instead, community programs that focus on conflict resolution, as well as background checks among private individuals and at gun shows, may help prevent more shootings, the report found.

“The overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness do not engage in violence toward others and should not be stereotyped as dangerous,” the report’s authors wrote. “Gun violence is not a simple, discrete category of crime; it shares characteristics with other forms of violence, and it can be a product of an array of cultural, social, psychological, and situational factors.”

Though it’s difficult to predict a specific person’s behavior, teaching social skills and problem-solving strategies reduce aggression, the report found. These prevention programs “must begin long before a gunman comes into a school or shopping center.”

Violent History

Prohibiting the use of firearms by people who may be a threat to themselves or others is a key step.

“The most consistent and powerful predictor of future violence is a history of violent behavior,” the report’s authors said.

Existing evidence suggests that licensing handgun purchases, requiring background checks for all gun sales, and oversight of gun dealers may lower risks that criminals will own them. More funding is required for better research into whether waiting periods for buying handguns, which range from 3 days in Iowa to 14 days in Hawaii, are also effective, the authors wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in San Francisco at elopatto@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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